Long, narrow, awkward side yard garden makeover – Case study

When it comes to garden design, some gardens are definitely more challenging than others. A particularly tricky one  is the long narrow side garden, which often ends up as a junkyard. It’s not really large enough to do anything with, that’s the problem.

Well actually, with a few cunning design tricks, you can turn that awkward side area into something eye-catching and dramatic that becomes an intrinsic part of your whole garden.

So, how do you design an awkward side space garden?


Step 1

The first thing you need to do in any long narrow space garden is to try and make it look wider. The wider you can make it, the more interesting a garden design it will look and the less likely you will be to use it to store junk!

The way to make any garden space look wider is to draw the eye from one side of the garden to the other. You do this by having either focal points strategically placed or by the garden design shapes you use. In the garden featured below we did both. The planting punctuated each changing direction and the different types of gravel were used in a sweeping serpent shape which forces your eyes to move from one side of the space to the other.

Step 2

Make a dark space look brighter. The dark wall segments were rendered and painted cream. The lighter colour helps bounce light back, making the space brighter and therefore look larger.


Step 3

Link the side area into the main garden. It’s important that the garden works as a whole entity and isn’t seen as a series of unrelated parts. By having the gravel path and stepping stones wrapping round the decking area at the end of the garden, it helped link the two areas together. The continuity of materials also helps link the two areas together.

By clearing out the junk, lightning the walls and creative use of the space, this dark dingy side garden looks twice the size and will hopefully never be used to store junk again!

Need more help?

If you have a long, narrow or rectangular shaped garden and would like ideas, plans and a step-by-step guide on how to transform it, check out the long garden formula. It’s an online course with written content and video tutorials that will guide you step-by-step on everything you need to do to completely transform any long garden into something amazing.

View our FREE training on designing LONG gardens

If you’d like to join in our upcoming web class on the Fast Track Formula for designing long gardens, please visit: https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/long-garden-webclass/

The FREE training is approximately 1hr and will show you exactly what it takes to design your garden quickly and easily.

Paving ideas for traditional garden styles

Last time we looked at contemporary paving ideas but if modern really isn’t your thing and you want to create a more traditional feel for your garden, then the materials you use hold the main key to how your garden will look.


Traditional paving often has slightly rounded edges or a more intricate pattern.

Last time we discussed how using smooth paving with very straight edges creates a modern and contemporary feel, well the exact opposite is true if you’re looking for something traditional. The more lumpy and bumpy the edges of the materials, be it bricks or paving, the more traditional it will look.

There are many shades of traditional. There’s the very formal, right the way through to very rustic. Very formal gardens have a very geometric layout, so the materials you use will be in very rigid patterns to suit the formality of the garden.

More rustic garden styles can use the exact same materials, but because there is less structure to the garden, there isn’t the formality with the design shapes, then the randomness of the materials is what gives it the rustic feel along with the uneven surfaces.

The examples below show you what I mean. The same paving stones have been used in both gardens, but one has more a defined shape and the other a more rustic design style because of the uneven edges.


Same paving stones, first quite formal with defined edge. Second more rustic looking.

The wonderful thing about rustic and traditional styles of garden is that you can incorporate more things into the paving. Whilst I would still stick with no more than three different types of hard landscaping materials, like brick, stone and cobbles, you still want clarity in the design, you don’t want to go overboard and have too many different types of materials together.

So when I say you can add more things I mean feature areas within the paving, like mosaics made from cobbles. Or you could create a segment in the paving that’s a pattern of bricks.


Paving feature segments

There is a lot more freedom to be creative with the more rustic and traditional styles of garden design. The other advantage is the more rustic a look you are aiming for, the less you have to worry about how the materials will weather and age, because it will be part and parcel of the feel of the garden.

With contemporary schemes they look much better when they’re really perfectly clean, as soon as they start to weather and lose some of that crispness, they don’t look as good.

So if you’re not sure if you should go for a more traditional style of garden and can’t decide between that and a more modern feel, then take a look at the style of your property for guidance. The really old traditional style of house will always look better with traditional materials. That’s not to say you can’t have a more contemporary spin on it, but it is easier if you match the garden style with the house.

BUT do be warned, nice materials will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page: https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/freeclasses/

Plant Selection – Fabulous in February

Garden planting in February can still be quite a hard month to have the garden look good in. We are still relying heavily on those evergreen plants to save the day.


Right click image and choose ‘Save As’ to download a larger version.

Ilex crenata Convexed Gold

This small evergreen plant, for all intense and purposes, looks just like a ‘golden box’ shrub. It’s not though. It is actually a member of the holly family. Whilst it can be used for hedging, I prefer to plant them in groups of three, five or more, depending on the size of garden. The golden yellow leaves makes for great impact in the garden, especially in the winter months.

Phormium Pink Panther

I love spiky, architectural plants. They make a bold statement and help bring clarity to planting schemes. They do this by providing a break from the normal round or oval shape plants. I particularly love the colours in the leaves of this variety of Phormium. They add a burst of colour and drama, as well as help to show off other plants in the garden.

Choisya ternata Sundance (Golden Mexican orange blossom)

The golden, evergreen leaves of this Choisya plant offer a dramatic burst of colour, vital to cheer up the garden in the dull winter months. In early summer they also have deliciously scented flowers, which makes this plant a great all-rounder. It doesn’t like it too cold though. You also need to be a bit careful about positioning it in full sun, as the golden leaves can be prone to scorching.

Photinia ‘Red Robin’

A very popular evergreen shrub, for good reason. The bright purple foliage of the new growth and the glossy dark green mature leaves, makes this plant always interesting. In the winter, you don’t get as much red, but even so, it’s still good to look at. It makes a great contrast for other plants. Photinias can get quite large, so best situated at the back of garden borders.

Corylus avellana Contorta Red Majestic – (corkscrew hazel)

This is the only non-evergreen on this month’s list. There’s two reasons I’ve chosen this. In February and March the stems are laden with catkins hanging down. The twisted stems, also makes this an interesting plant to look at in the winter months. In the spring, soft, purple leaves burst forth, adding more colour in the garden. It’s quite slow growing, but makes an impressive display once established.

BUT do be warned, plants alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page: https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/freeclasses/

Gardens that disappoint – the Chelsea Flower Show

Have you been watching the coverage of the world’s greatest gardens, the Chelsea Flower Show in London? What do you think of the gardens this year?

Chelsea Flower Show Display Garden from a few years ago...

Chelsea Flower Show Display Garden from a few years ago…

I hate to admit it, but I’m really not enjoying the gardens. In fact, if I’m really honest, I haven’t for a few years now…

After watching the garden coverage on TV, I think I’ve turned into a ‘grumpy old woman’ (though that might be the result of a recent significant-ish birthday). If my grumpiness isn’t a result of the ‘0’, then is it because we are getting the same old gardens repackaged at Chelsea each year, but with slightly different gimmicks?

The Chelsea Flower Show used to be the highlight of my year. I’d go down to London, full of excitement, with an armful of cameras and film, fight my way through the crowds and walk round in awe at the amazing and inspiring gardens. Now I’m sitting in front of the TV, yawning or muttering, “They did that garden three years ago. That one is a re-hash of so and so’s garden and why on earth did they do that!”

What’s the problem?

Is it age that’s making me fed up with all the gimmicks and metaphors that designers seem to be spouting on about, or have the gardens lost their true essence these days? Has anyone designed a Chelsea garden this year for no other reason than to create a stunning garden to inspire people?

I feel when designers are focusing too much on the concepts and trying to add things they wouldn’t normally, for the sake of their theme, the gardens lose something as a result.

Bad design examples

What’s really making me grumpy is seeing gardens that don’t flow and work as a garden that well. I’m seeing designs that are nothing more than a series of unrelated features. They don’t utilise the space well. Some shapes even make the garden look narrow and awkward. And don’t get me started on the practicalities of actually mowing those odd shaped lawns!

Now, in fairness, I haven’t yet seen all of the main gardens on TV yet, so I am really hoping that there will be a garden that’s well designed, so I can say “Wow, I want to design a garden like that!”

I know how incredibly hard everyone involved with the show works. It’s no mean feat getting a garden built to the high specifications, deadlines and pressure that goes with the world’s greatest garden show. I just want to see less gimmicks and metaphors (when did a garden EVER need a metaphor) and more inspiring design.

I want REAL gardens.

Perhaps then, Chelsea isn’t the place for that. It is a show after all.


What do you think about this year’s Chelsea Flower Show?

Hopefully, it is just me that’s feeling jaded with the Chelsea this year. I hope that other people are feeling inspired. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below…

Do you need help with your Garden (with no gimmicks)?

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page: https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/freeclasses/

How to measure a garden [part 1]

How to survey your garden

To view this garden survey video along with many others visit the Successful Garden Design YouTube Channel

The video above shows the first stage in how to design a garden and is for anyone suffering from tapemeasureaphobia!

Yes, we finally have the first of the infamous garden design in Spain video series up and running…. hoorah – well not quite hoorah, more horror. I don’t know what is worse, being in front of the camera to do these (yes I do feel like someone auditioning for a reality tv series) or the horrific editing process where I have to sit through hours of gaffs!

So why would I put myself through this horror?

Because it is REALLY important you measure the garden if you are going to design your garden well. The survey is the first step to take to successfully design a garden, without it you won’t succeed. Yes the reality is as harsh as that…

The other aim of the video is to show you there isn’t anything to be afraid of. Garden design is straight-forward. There’s no rocket science involved, no sorcery, just a tape measure and a sheet or two of paper.

So watch the video, but most importantly get out there and survey the garden. It really is critical to survey the garden so you can create a scale plan to work from and that will enable you to design a garden properly.

If you have a really awkward garden to survey that’s a strange shape or you have lots of plants or level changes to contend with, then the garden survey course will show you step-by-step how to survey more complex gardens and draw a scale plan.

This short mini-course will also show you how to draw up a scale plan. Having a drawing to scale will help you order the correct quantity of landscaping materials and enable you to check your ideas will fit in the garden.

Leave a comment if the video has been helpful, or if you have a question you would like answered on garden surveying.

To see how to draw up your plan, watch part 2.

And if you’d like to attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page: https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/freeclasses/

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